Never a city to shy away from being the biggest or brightest, glitzy Dubai has a wonderfully long list of tempting attractions to visit as soon as you're ready to be pulled away from your poolside sun-lounger. Home to the world's busiest international airport, Dubai can be easily visited as a stopover or on a longer holiday, and with so many flights passing through, you're bound to set foot here soon. So you're prepared, here are 12 of the best places to visit in Dubai.
No building scrapes the sky like the iconic Burj Khalifa, the highest structure in the world at 2,723ft (830,) tall. To get your head in the clouds, hop in the lift and soar to the observation deck on the 124th floor for expansive views across the city and the encroaching desert or call in for afternoon tea or sundowners at the world's loftiest lounge on floor 154.
This modestly misnamed arts area is much more than a single street: it's an entire cultural district housed in once-abandoned marble warehouses with a huge events programme that promises a good time year-round. A wide range of galleries showing off the works of Emirati and Middle Eastern artists have taken up residence here, and a handful of cafes, a bean-to-bar chocolate factory, and even a small museum of retro cars all mean that it's easy to make a day - or several - out of Alserkal.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Emiratis make up only a small percentage of the population of their own country (most numbers have 85% of Dubai's population comprising expats), and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding helps visitors better understand the local culture and traditions. Most enlightening is an unscripted no-holds-barred question-and-answer session where travellers are encouraged to ask anything that's on their minds over a cup of cardamom coffee. The centre also runs tours of the neighbourhood where it's located, one of Dubai's most atmospheric: the beautiful Al Fahidi Historic District, which is full of narrow alleyways that wind through traditional Gulf architecture and old sand-coloured homes.
One of the city's most photogenic strands, Kite Beach has enough activities to get your blood going if you're after a day of action or enough clean white sand and wi-fi bandwidth to let you relax and recharge. Beloved by the kitesurfing community, Kite Beach is free to visit and has postcard-perfect views of the Burj Al Arab.
Burj Al Arab
One of the world's most luxurious hotels, with a self-awarded seven stars, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab anchors its own island off the coast of the hip hood of Jumeirah. While the price of a room might knock the wind out of your sails, the building is a beaut to admire from the beach. If overnighting is out of reach, a reservation at one of the Burj's bars or restaurants will get you past security and into the otherworldly lobby.
If you want to splash out on your trip and stay, check out prices and availability for the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
IMG Worlds of Adventure
Dubai is making itself into the theme park capital of the Middle East, and the impressive IMG Worlds of Adventure, where all the entertainment is contained in an air-conditioned space that's the size of 28 football fields, is the world's largest indoor amusement park. IMG Worlds of Adventure is made up of four themed areas, including the Cartoon Network zone with child-friendly attractions for the little ones and the Marvel zone for adrenaline-seekers.
Awaken your senses with a walk through Dubai's spice market, where your nose will prickle at the towering mounds of pungent options on offer, from heady Iranian saffron to the musky smoke from burning frankincense wafting past the market stalls. Nearby is the glittering Gold Souk, where every piece is bound to catch your eye. A scenic option for souk exploring is to jump on an abra, a traditional wooden boat, for a jaunt across Dubai Creek, where walls of vibrantly coloured and patterned fabrics await in the Textile Souk.
Mall of the Emirates
Is there anything you can't do in the Mall of the Emirates? Though it's not the largest shopping centre in the city (that award goes to Dubai Mall), the Mall of the Emirates has hundreds of shops, a multiplex cinema and the first indoor ski slope in the Middle East, where you can tackle the five snowy runs or shred the halfpipe. Even when it's 45°C outside.
Hatta, an exclave of Dubai, is nestled near the border with Oman and remains overlooked for many travellers to the emirate, but it's a must-visit for outdoor adventurers and makes a great alternative to the busy city. You can hire kayaks or pedalos and take to the beautiful turquoise waters of Hatta Dam, plus walking and mountain biking trails have been opened in the rugged Hajar Mountains that surround the town.
Book it: Private Dubai Hatta Desert Safari
A modern take on a traditional Arab village, desert-hued Madinat Jumeirah is a city within the city. The huge complex includes palm tree-lined waterways complete with cruising gondolas, blossoming gardens, a marketplace, plenty of restaurants and even a handful of luxury hotels if you can't pry yourself away.
Find somewhere to stay by checking out our hotels in Dubai.